Owners of a family farm in Schaghticoke, New York, are being fined $13,000 for refusing to allow a gay wedding ceremony to take place on their property in 2012, just one year after the state legalized same-sex nuptials.
Cynthia and Robert Gifford, owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, a family-friendly farm and special events venue, told Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, a lesbian couple from Newark, New Jersey, that they were welcome to hold their reception on the property, but not the actual wedding ceremony, according to Religion News Service.
The Giffords live on the premises and these ceremonies are typically conducted on the first floor of their home or on the nearby property. Considering that they are Christians and consider marriage to be confined to relationships involving one man and one woman, the two weren't comfortable hosting McCathy and Erwin's nuptials.
A screen shot from the Liberty Ridge Farm website (Image source: LibertyRidgeFarmNY.com)
An attorney for the couple told Religion News Service that the two have both employed gay staffers and hosted events for same-sex couples in the past, but that a gay wedding ceremony in their home was too close for comfort.
McCarthy and Erwin weren't happy with this rejection, so they took their complaint to the New York’s Division of Human Rights, claiming that they were discriminated against as a result of their sexual orientation.
A judge subsequently ruled in their favor in the case New York State Division of Human Rights v. Liberty Ridge Farm, rejecting the Giffords' argument that the family owns a private business that is legally permitted to issue such refusals.
Judge Migdalia Pares, who argued that the fact that the owners live on the premises does not mean that the business is private in nature, ruled that Liberty Ridge Farm is a public accommodation as it rents its space and regularly collects fees from the public.
As a result, the judge found that the couple must abide by anti-discrimination regulations under New York's Human Rights Law, ruling that the Giffords must pay a $10,000 fine and give an additional $1,500 each to McCarthy and Erwin, Religion News Service reported.
"No one should have the happiest time of their life marred by discrimination," McCarthy, who was represented alongside her wife by the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement, according to the New York Law Journal. "We hope this decision will protect all New Yorkers from having to go through the hurt that we experienced."
Photo credit: Shutterstock
But attorney James Trainor of Cutler, Trainor & Cutler, who represented the Giffords, said that the recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision that barred the government from forcing small companies with religious objections to provide controversial birth control devices for employees should have been considered in this case.
"The judge and commissioner each had the opportunity to reconsider the Giffords' religious rights after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that businesses can exercise the religious rights of their owners in Hobby Lobby decision of June 30, yet failed to do so," Trainor told the New York Law Journal.
It is currently unclear whether the Giffords will continue a legal battle against the ruling.
A phone message left for the Giffords by TheBlaze Thursday was not immediately returned.
(H/T: Religion News Service)
Front page image via Shutterstock.com